Monsters dwell in the hinterlands of the known world, symbolic expressions of cultural unease. Inhabitants of an imagined realm adjunct to the everyday, monsters offer powerful tropes and tools for learning and teaching in the arts and humanities
I have come to believe that the success of open education may rest on our ability to support new adopters in wrestling these inner monsters and find spaces to tell epic stories about inner battles with open sharing. Without this inner viewing, interest and learning about infotention and other digital literacies may be tactical but not sustainable. I am not alone in this belief. Jim Groom was quoted as saying recently:
You don’t need new technology to change your teaching… you need a new you.
When I started thinking about this post I wanted to write about ‘team’ work and how to do it virtually. Team seems such an overused word it means little anymore when used to refer to groups of people working together physically or virtually.
In my work I am often asked often how to manage groups of people who are not co-located but have to collaborate. There is literature on it but it mostly says just ‘use what we know about teamwork in the physical and find ways to apply it to the virtual’. Trouble is, this advise does not work very well. Or, more accurately, if you have the right people for the job they will make the advise work. But then, they would make any advise work. It matters to me to find out what is the difference that makes the difference practically not theoretically.
I set out at the beginning of this year to learn about virtual collaboration by becoming a student again. It is easy to think about the theory of effective team work and say to my own students, this is how I would apply it to working virtually. It is quite another to say, this is how I made it work. This post is about how I made it work. All I offer here is a personal view, informed by many years of teaching and facilitating groups for the purposes of learning and getting business done.
I want to compare a negative experience with a positive one. I studied with the Open University (#H817) earlier in the year and we had to to get a project done in project teams. This ‘teams’ were little more than a collection of individuals mandated to work on a disposable assignment, in the sense the sense David Wiley uses the term:
These are assignments that students complain about doing and faculty complain about grading. They’re assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away.
Much of that course was designed through disposable assignments, this was managable when working in isolation, but took a new level of complexity and learnt helplessness when having to engage others in order to succeed at something nobody (including the educators) cared about.
I made the decision to not join #rhizo14 as I like to focus on one course at a time when I learn. It was all too tempting though. Many people from my online network were doing it and I wanted in too…
I decided to help out with Google Plus as it seemed an unloved branch of the course. I visited, created a few categories, added some images and resources, offered to support Ron who was really keen to moderate the community and who had actually been moderating it since before the course started welcoming new members and simply being present on G+ – he just did not have the label.
I then moved on to DS106 and what is next for me there. Or so I thought. This morning I thought what harm could it do to watch Dave’s introductory video and then get on with work? I was fascinated by the notion that ‘Learning as cheating’ had been set up by Dave as a way to disrupt and challenge preconceptions about learning.
The whole ethos of this blog (some might say my life…) is the idea of looking into the double mirror of life. Humans get so comfortable with our preconceptions and certainties that I make it a daily practice to live in a state of ‘epistemological hovering’ as Tyler Cohen likes to say. I live life in uncertainty and no longer look for certainty. I ask as often as possible: What have I changed my mind about recently and why? and worry if the answer is nothing. I set up this space to help me look at the other side. Given a chosen field, what are the themes that are being backgrounded or in the shadow? What are we not paying attention to that we might benefit from exploring? In keeping with this, one of my first posts on the #rhizo14 community was one that offered some challenge to the idea of the rhizome as a descriptor for deep learning. A ‘weedy’ rhizome did not seem inspiring and less so this statement:
Bamboo and other rhizomatic plants are great at spread, survival and colonisation of new territories. But as ecologists and gardeners know, if unchecked they become weeds and can dominate and suppress a plant community or a garden instead of enriching it. They are also clones – the rhizomes produce exact copies of the ‘mother’ plant.
So instead of free exploration and exchange of ideas leading to rich and unpredictable learning – the story of rhizomatic learning can equally be a story of domination and monoculture, with rarer and more delicate ‘flowers’ getting pushed out, suppressed – not able to grow.
I can probably spend the next 6 weeks unpacking the implications of the statement above in relation the psychology of learning – which is my passion as a cognitive psychologist. I will come back to this I am sure.
Right now, I was grabbed by the idea of using ‘cheating as learning’ as a construct to challenge dusty beliefs about how we teach and learn. Juxtaposing old beliefs about copying and creating; using the apparent clash to reflect on what it means to learn. Of course, coming fresh from doing DS106 more than full time ( I took a sabbatical from teaching last year to do this) this is not an unfamiliar concept. After all, I now know that ‘everything is a remix’ and find it much easier now to teach creative thinking to my students through this construct than many hours of experimental psychology evidence that shows that a focus on individual creativity is only half the story. It is only when we ask, where is creativity that we see that individual creativity relies on a domain of knowledge, a community of shared contacts and that systemic creativity is the only sensible way to describe creative thought.
Whilst I reside on the Internet, I am a visitor when it comes to privacy. I don’t want strangers to know I am there and I certainly don’t want uninvited guests on my video calls. It turns out that when you record a video call on a Google hangout it has to be set to public – you have a ‘Hangout on Air’ or a ‘Hangout’ but no ‘private recorded hangout’ feature yet. So, as I had a team meeting on a hangout on air, I discovered the delights of Trolling behaviour that YouTube is (in)famous for. Well, I say that as if I have known about it all my life, but I found it out researching for this post. It turns out that a troll is ‘any person that comments or leaves their response to a video that negatively effects the community, or provokes the emotions of others in a negative way’. You can also go online to learn how to do it, with some handy student guides or by visiting certain forums. I learnt that some trolls have even been jailed for extreme behaviour…but back to my hangout.
I signed off after an eventful (technical problems saw us lose a team member again this week) hangout, looking forward to working out how Google managed to get a video of my hangout on my YouTube channel automatically. Let me own up – I use YouTube but have always refused to post anything on it as was concerned about privacy issues and had no time to navigate backstage to ensure my settings were aligned to my personal values on internet use. Well, as soon as I logged on I had to get a crash course on YouTube privacy. I was glad that I did not know how to use the software so that all the commenting had happened in the background and we just did not see comments as we got on with our work. I saw 24 comments and frankly, panicked. Yes, I have unresolved issues that lead me to protect my privacy online – more on this later in the post – but it was not an overreaction to feel angry when I found out that strangers had been listening to my private conversation.
So, I read the comments. I noted that it was only 2 users interacting with each other and attempting to get a reaction from us as we talked. I calmed down a little. I used the transparency of the Internet to find out about them. It turns out one of them (scary, but not really, as you will see later) had tracked me down on Google Plus and sent me a message ordering me to ‘Look at your comments’. From there, it was easy to find him and no, I did not want to add him to my circles, thank you very much Google Plus. A photo of a kid who could not be older than 8 at the top of the profile. What did I do? Nothing. I did not know then that this is the advise given to deal with this behaviour in sensible places but after thinking about the many ways I could make him suffer for scaring me – I figured out I was better off blocking him, deleting all my comments from YouTube, blocking both users on YouTube, changing my privacy settings to Unlisted by default, Unlisted my video, blocked all comments on the video, and asked any viewer to sing the national anthem of their country of origin before they could click play. Just kidding on that last one. The whole process took 3 hours – the issue is, of course, that none of these social media sharing sites make it easy for you to be private. There were other factors at play for the length of time it took me to sort out: I was exhausted and trying to get a task done that had nothing to do with navigating privacy settings on YouTube and Google Plus. I was annoyed that I was having to do this at all, and hence not exactly in the frame of mind to learn how to use yet another service. As it turned out, there had been no need to panic, it was just 2 silly kids messing around, nothing malicious about it. It left a bitter taste in my mouth, nevertheless. I set out to learn from the experience. I needed to tackle my unresolved privacy issues. I could not have it both ways – stay private and become an open scholar. Or could I?
Firstly I needed to challenge my fear of ‘being seen’ on the web by strangers. I started to think about the similarities between my home in the physical real and the different ‘homes’ I am establishing in my virtual life. What rules apply? Are the rules for the physical and the virtual regarding privacy the same? Can I expect the same reasonable behaviour from people online as I expect in real life? I did a little thought experiment – How did what has just happened online translate to the physical?